Bonding bill meets some needs, not others

Gov. Jesse Ventura’s capital bonding recommendations illustrate he somewhat understands the needs of many college students. Much of the governor’s bond recommendations focus on quality of life issues for students.

Take, for example, Bede Hall on the Crookston campus – a dilapidated old student service center in such bad shape the local fire marshal condemned the third floor. The Duluth science building included in the governor’s proposal replaces the existing chemistry building on the Duluth campus. Students there are currently learning 21st century science in laboratory classrooms built before scientists even knew DNA existed! Add in the system-wide classroom improvements the governor recommended, and it is clear Ventura understands the needs of college students.

That said, there are some areas of the governor’s bonding proposal that warrant additional resources. Continuing with his theme of “keeping what you have,” the governor recommended two projects on the Twin Cities campus receive funding at levels lower than requested: Nicholson Hall and the Plant Growth Facility.

Nicholson Hall is a grand old historic building the University seeks to renovate. When complete, Nicholson will be central to students’ freshman year experience. It will also compliment the College of Liberal Art’s “Humanities District” by housing many of the foreign language classrooms. Nicholson Hall was included in the governor’s plan but was under-funded by $14 million. At the level recommended in the governor’s plan, this project simply can’t be done.

The Plant Growth Facility was under-funded by $15.3 million in the governor’s proposal. The University would renovate much of the greenhouse facilities on the St. Paul campus, bringing them into compliance with state laws regarding fertilizer and pesticide use. It would also create new learning labs where students would participate in research on plant breeding, crop disease, as well as insect control and crop production. This building hits all of Ventura’s priorities. It preserves existing facilities, has statewide impact and has a heavy science focus. Phase I of this project was funded by the legislature in 2000 and is now complete. The request this year is for Phase II and would complete the work needed on this facility.

Most surprising in the governor’s request was the absence of several projects, given his emphasis on preserving existing buildings, science and technology, and projects with statewide impact. The Social Science building on the Morris campus, the Twin Cities campus’s Mineral Research Resource Center and the Translational Research Facility all fit the governor’s guidelines for projects.

The Social Science Building in Morris is a historic building used for courses such as psychology. The biggest problem with the building, as it is now, is it was built about the same time Freud began to publish some of his more famous works. The level of technology available to students who use the building has remained relatively unchanged since then.

The Mineral Research Resource Center is the building where taconite was invented. Yet the building has sat unused for more than 20 years. The University would renovate this beautiful riverfront building to house a number of programs with significant impact on education in Minnesota.

MRRC would be home to the Department of Educational Psychology and its nationally recognized research center – the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement. The Center for Early Education and Development would also be moved into the MRRC building. CEED’s work focuses on policy development, best practices for education professionals and supporting parents. In this building, many of the state’s future teachers will be trained, and many of its current teachers will continue their professional development. I would challenge anyone to identify a building that would have a greater impact on the future of education in Minnesota than the renovated MRRC.

The Translational Research Facility would be a new building at the University. However it could be argued this new building would fall under the “keep what you have” theme in that it is part of a six-part plan to rebuild the University Medical School. There is no space left in existing facilities for new medical professors and little space to expand for new areas of research. The TRF would greatly enhance the medical school’s ability to train future Minnesota doctors and would aid in the development of the types of medical breakthroughs the Medical School is famous for.

The truth is that any capital projects at the University have statewide impact because of the central role the University plays in Minnesota life. Most of us have benefited in some way by the work done at the University. Given the important role the University presently plays and will play in the lives of Minnesota residents, it is a basic necessity that we must, at the very least, provide a building suited to the task of teaching.

Dave Boyd is the executive director of the Student Legislative Coalition. Send comments to [email protected]